In 2009 when we started Altra we always had great ambitions. We wanted to sweep the running community with Zero Drop™, FootShape™ shoes across the globe. Ever since the beginning of the brand we wanted to be able to get out and compete with the big boys in the running space. We have always sized ourselves up with the biggest players in the running shoe community. Often I am asked if I ever believed that we would be where we are and I can honestly say yes. Not that I am prideful about where we have come or what our aspirations were. I believe if you are going to go into something you need to believe that you can do it. I always looked at the top players as our competition. I never looked at anyone outside the top 5 as competition to our brand or where we wanted to be. Yes, you do need to take things a step at a time, but without vision you won’t get to where you want to go. I always find myself looking 3 steps (or more) ahead of others. I have found that I have strong vision for the future and what can be. This has been a big help in everything that I have done, especially in building Altra.
Startup Is Step One
Starting a business and bringing it to the marketplace is a huge accomplishment. Anyone that has gone through the steps of conceptualizing, strategizing and launching a business, or an idea, knows how much work it takes to establish a brand and set the tone of something new. First, you need to find yourself establishing your business domestically. You need to work on setting the tone. Your company needs financing. It is important to keep everything organized. These are all key elements to have as the proper base for any business.
There is always a bit of luck involved in starting a business. You will cross paths with others that you be able to leverage for their expertise. These meetings will seem like dumb luck. You will be lead to others than can help you. You will strike gold at times and not know how it was there. Yet, nothing comes better than old fashioned hard work. If we put forth the effort then things will fall into place. None of these experiences happened by us sitting on our thumbs.
A true startup needs commitment, energy and devotion. You need to be able to give it your emotional and physical dedication. Without a sincere commitment you will not get to where you want to be. Leverage your vision and work to achieve it.
Excitement comes through success. You will see the word of your brand spreading and want to push it to everywhere. Customers are knocking on your door and wanting to buy from every avenue. It becomes easy to get caught up in the excitement and lose focus. You can grow too fast. You need to be able to fulfill, meet demands, service customers and accounts and stay true to your brand. Stay true.
Know your distribution model. Are you going to sell online? Are you selling direct online or through Amazon and other vendors? Are you focused on specialty retail? Are you going to sell in big box? Do you want to expand internationally? Are you going to use third-party distributors? Know the answers to these questions.
You need to know what is best for your ideal customer. Look at the markets that can have the best potential for you and target key distributors. Be sure to stay true to your brand. It is easy to get carried away as you get requests and money from many sources. These may not be right for your brand.
At Altra we chose early on to be a specialty running focused brand. We have had many requests to branch out beyond that. We are too small to do so. We have made some mistakes as we went international and took on retailers, but we grew from it. Know your distributors. Be sure that they match your brand. We have begun to branch outside of running shoes to some casual and outdoor products. We could follow requests from our fans and build all sorts of shoes, but we are not ready for that. All things in due time. Discuss with your partners what your “due time” and strategies are.
Align with great teammates
When going into business it is important to know who you are going into business with. Business partners are nearly as critical as your choice of a spouse. They need to have similar values and ideals as you do. They need to be as committed as you are. If you just choose them based on their skill level then you may be better hiring them as an employee instead of signing a partnership agreement. Some people make better employees or managers than they do partners. Know this going into business.
Coordination is key
Everybody needs to be on the same page. Companies need to align in strategy, branding, voice, philosophy and commitment. This starts from the top down. Hire individuals that will coordinate and work with their counterparts well.
Your sales and marketing teams need to be completely aligned. They need to work together on a daily basis. They must support one another.
Operations needs to support sales and sales needs to provide data to operations. Without this coordination there may not be product to fulfill or there may be too much product. Inventory gets expensive to manufacture, but also to house for long periods of time.
Customer support and social support are on the front lines. They need to communicate with R&D and sales. They can keep everyone aware of quality issues, what is selling, what the customer loves and more.
Be sure to get your teams talking to one another. They need to work together. This will help your company reach new heights. Be sure that everyone is breathing the company culture and brand.
If it is your dream to build a business then I wish you luck. I hope that you can succeed in your venture. May these tips be helpful to you.
Let me know what has worked for you in business.